hard rock

REVIEW: Styx – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004)

STYX – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004 A&M)

Styx need to get their albums remastered and reissued pronto.  In the meantime, you can Come Sail Away with The Styx Anthology.

The great thing about the Styx Anthology is that it covers virtually all Styx history, even the first four albums on Wooden Nickel records.  Each one of those early albums is represented by a track (two for Styx II).  Those early albums had some good material on them that usually only diehards get to hear.  “Best Thing” and “You Need Love” are bright and rocking, just like you expect from Styx.  “Winner Take All” and “Rock & Roll Feeling” are consistent toe-tappers.  The jovial harmonies, and lead vocals (by Dennis DeYoung and James “JY” Young) on these tracks could easily be mistaken for later, more famous Styx.  Don’t forget the original version of “Lady” from Styx II, their first big ballad.  Styx’s flair for the dramatic was there right from the first.  (Remember “Lady” as performed by the Dan Band in the movie Old School?)

Shortly thereafter Styx signed with A&M.  1975’s Equinox boasted hits galore.  You should know “Light Up” and “Lorelei”.  But Equinox was their last with founding guitarist John Curulewski.  He was replaced by a guitarist with prodigious talent and a voice to go with it:  Tommy Shaw.  Shaw’s “Crystal Ball” is one of the best songs from the album of the same title.  “Mademoiselle” and “Shooz” are not far behind.

Styx enjoyed an abnormally long period of great, classic albums in a row.  After Crystal Ball came The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight, Cornerstone and Paradise Theatre.  With a solid lineup they continued to crank out radio staples.  Their music became grander and more conceptual thanks to Dennis DeYoung.  Tommy Shaw and JY tended to provide balance with rockier songs.  Songs like Dennis’ “The Grand Illusion” are balanced out by Young’s “Miss America” and Shaw’s “Renegade”.  Sure, Shaw could write a ballad or two, but his are more rootsy like the acoustic “Boat on a River”.

Through “Come Sail Away”, “Babe”, “The Best of Times” and “Too Much Time on My Hands”, it is impossible to understate how hit-laden this CD set is.  “Blue Collar Man”, “Rockin’ the Paradise”…it’s seemingly endless!

Until it ends, right after “Mr. Roboto”.  Though their lineup was stable, Styx were volatile.  DeYoung was fired at one point for being too controlling.  Shaw threatened to quit if the song “First Time” was ever released as a single (it wasn’t and it’s not on here).  It came to a head for real with “Roboto”, from 1983’s Kilroy Was Here.  Though it went to #3, the tour did poorly and the band were not happy with DeYoung and his rock operatics.  Tommy Shaw stated that he couldn’t get into songs about robots (long before he wrote an album about Mars).  The Styx Anthology cuts you a break by not subjecting you to their last single before splitting, “Music Time”.

When Styx reformed in 1990 it was without Shaw, who was doing very well in the supergroup Damn Yankees.  He was replaced by singer/guitarist Glen Burtnik.  Burtnik’s single “Love is the Ritual” is a jarring change.  The seven years between it and “Roboto” are audible, as Styx forged a clear hard rock sound with the single.  Sporting synth bass and shouted “Hey!’s”, you couldn’t get further from the core Styx sound than “Love is the Ritual”.  With the new member singing, it’s hard to hear any similarity to Styx at all.  Dennis’ “Show Me the Way” has proven to be a more timeless song.  Although it resonated with Americans at the time of the Gulf War, today it is just a great song about keeping the faith.

Styx split again, but reformed with Shaw in 1995.  Unfortunately, founding drummer John Panozzo died from years of alcohol abuse and was replaced by the incredible Todd Sucherman.  “Dear John” is Sucherman’s first appearance on the disc, a tribute to Panozzo.  The somber Tommy Shaw ballad (from 1997’s Return to Paradise) simply had to be included on a Styx anthology.  The only Styx studio album ignored on the set is 1999’s Brave New World, and rightfully so.  Instead we leap ahead in time for the final song, featuring yet another lineup change, and one of the most significant.  Dennis DeYoung was let go and replaced by Canadian solo star Lawrence Gowan.  This has proven to be a fortuitous undertaking for both Styx and Gowan.  Gowan plays keyboards on “One With Everything” (from 2003’s Cyclorama), an epic six minute Tommy Shaw progressive workout.  It’s a brilliant song, and a perfect indication that for Styx, a whole new chapter had opened.*

Do yourself a favour. Go and buy Styx’s new album The Mission, and put The Styx Anthology in the basket too.  Then enjoy, and congratulate yourself for a great start on your Styx collection!

5/5 stars

* Two more lineup changes:  when bassist Chuck Panozzo fell ill, he became a part time bassist for Styx.  Glen Burtnik returned on bass this time and played on Cyclorama.  When he left again, he was replaced by Ricky Phillips from Coverdale-Page.

 

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REVIEW: Styx – Styxworld Live 2001

STYX – Styxworld Live 2001 (2001 Sanctuary)

There are plenty of live Styx albums, the majority with current singer Lawrence Gowan.  2001’s Styxworld is as entertaining as the title implies.  It really does represent the world of Styx:  oldies, solo hits, and obscure tracks too.  Because the Styx lineup in 2001 included guitarist/singer Glen Burtnik, there are a couple songs he wrote that Styx don’t play anymore.

Styx have had a credible career, post-Dennis DeYoung.  Adding Gowan, a solo star in Canada, was a brilliant move.   Though Gowan and DeYoung don’t sound alike, Lawrence is capable of performing Dennis’ more dramatic hits like “Come Sail Away”.   You wouldn’t want that song dropped from the set!  But Gowan also adds his own solo material:  “A Criminal Mind” (from 1985’s Strange Animal) is more than welcome.  A great song is a great song, and “A Criminal Mind” has since become a part of Styx.

Credit should be heaped for including lesser-heard classics like “Boat on a River” in the set, just as good as any of the missing songs.  You’ll also hear “Rocking the Paradise”, “Miss America”, “Sing for the Day”, “Crystal Ball”, “Half-Penny, Two-Penny” and “Lorelei” (James “JY” on lead vocals).  Essentially the setlist was whittled down to songs co-written by Tommy Shaw or James Young, with “Come Sail Away” being the only solo DeYoung-written song.

You could fill a whole other album with missing songs like “The Grand Illusion” or “Renegade” but what makes Styxworld strong are the songs included in their place.  Like it or not “Love is the Ritual” was a minor hit for Burtnik-era Styx, and an effort seems to have been made to include everybody’s material.  A big hit (though not by Styx!) is “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” by Patty Smyth and Don Henley…written by Smyth and Burtnik.  It’s cool to have a Styx version though it’s shortened for the stage.  Of course there’s “Criminal Mind” by Gowan, and even the ballad “High Enough” by Tommy Shaw’s Damn Yankees.  Though it seems like a ballad-heavy set, there is plenty of rock and roll.

Check out Styxworld for a taste of this period of Styx history.  If you like Gowan, it’s a win.

4/5 stars

 

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Hot Wire (1991)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 5 in his KIX series

KIX – Hot Wire (1991 Atlantic)

It took the almighty Kix three years to follow up their commercial breakthrough Blow My Fuse. When they did, they had a new record contract, and an assload of debt from their first three albums. Being that this was 1991, the clock was ticking before that putz from Seattle would change the face of rock music forever by replacing talented musicianship and fun with glorified punk songs about deodorant. The resulting album Hot Wire was the band’s heaviest album to date, with their hard rock influences taking over their sound completely. While Hot Wire is still an entertaining listen, it’s not as consistent as the albums that preceded it, and is a little derivative at times.

Hot Wire is jumpstarted by the title track, which starts off with a riff that sounds like Ted Nugent’s “Just What the Doctor Ordered”, and ends with a loving homage to “Have a Drink on Me”. The sonic annihilation in between is a whole hell of a lot of fun, and has Kix playing some of the most aggressive music of their career. Steve Whiteman in particular is taking no prisoners with an absolutely electrifying vocal performance that commands attention and respect. The song juggles the head banging verses with a trademark melodic Kix chorus that will blow your mind. Maybe Kurt Cobain was listening to this when his Kurt Cobrains hit the floor in April of 1994. It’s a great choice to open the album with, as it dispels any notion that Kix has become less hungry as a result of their platinum success.

Kix follows it up with what could only be described as a tribute to AC/DC’s “Big Balls”, complete with a Bon Scott impression. In lead single “Girl Money”, Whiteman channels Scott while talking about a woman of low moral fibre across the bar. The chorus is an absolute explosion of melody, literally. If you listen carefully, you can hear cannons going from the left to the right speaker after the lyrics “bang boom party”. The attention to detail is not only amusing, but it reflects the sonic identity of the record. The production on this album serves to polish the rough edges while retaining all the sonic power that Kix have to offer. It sounds good, but there are no frills to be found. This is a rock and roll record, and the band is going to treat it as such. No more Cool Kids new wave pandering, the group is out to rock your world.

 The fourth slot on the album is left to “Tear Down the Walls”, a weak ballad that was probably recorded to capitalize on the success of “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. It’s pleasant enough, but one can’t help but compare it to superior ballads on past Kix records. While it’s not nearly as iconic or enjoyable as “For Shame”, “Walkin’ Away”, or “Don’t Close Your Eyes”, it’s still a much better decision to listen to it than to marry Courtney Love, in my opinion only of course.

Kix only has one ballad again, and gets away with it by preceding it with the hook laden “Luv-A-Holic”, which has a similar structure to “Get It While It’s Hot” from the previous record, done in a heavier style that is more representative of the Hot Wire sound.  It’s one of the best songs on the album, and the deal only gets sweeter when “Rock & Roll Overdose”, (a song title I believe Kurt took too literally) greets the listener after the lacklustre ballad. One of the heaviest tunes Kix have ever done, it’s a nice ode to rock and roll itself with Whiteman bringing back his powerful raspy vocals from the title track. Guitarists Ronnie “10/10” Younkins and Brian Forsythe really get to shine on this track with each getting a chance to show off their solo chops. It’s much more enjoyable than listening to nursery rhyme melodies over three chord punk songs and pretending like you hate any band that has reached any kind of success, including your contemporaries that praise you.

What sinks the album is a sense of monotony. Some of the lesser tunes begin to sound the same, and some of them are lyrically lacking. “Hee Bee Jee Bee Crush”, “Bump the La La”, and “Same Jane” were in desperate need of penmanship reform. There’s also not as much variety as you would normally expect from a Kix album, as they seem to be firmly rooted in a hard rock sound. Choruses lack some of the staying power that they had on earlier albums, and the songs begin to run together.

While by no means a bad album, Hot Wire comes as a bit of a disappointment after the quality of the two previous outings. Unfortunately, due to shifting (shitty) tastes, Kix would only release one more album on their major label (1993’s appropriately titled Contractual Obligation Live!) before being pushed to the indie world. The mighty titans would regroup for one more studio album with the original lineup.  They disappeared for the better part of twenty years before reemerging with a new bassist as strong as ever.  As for Hot Wire…

3.5/5 stars

Authors note: I don’t really hate Nirvana, but they’re just so easy to poke fun at. I would take Badmotorfinger, Ten, & Ritual de lo Habitual over Nevermind any day of the week though.

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Blow My Fuse (1988)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 4 in his KIX series

KIX – Blow My Fuse (1988 Atlantic)

When Kix released their fourth album on Atlantic, the band would finally receive the recognition and popularity that they deserved. Blow My Fuse is one of the most fun hard rocking albums of the late ‘80s without the guilty feeling that you get listening to the other “hair bands” that were dominating MTV. You could blast this record in a way that you couldn’t with say, Warrant, and not care who heard you, because Kix aren’t a hair band. They’re a hard rock band. These glorious Maryland hicks with a collective explosion fetish crafted a glorious hard rock album in the mold of AC/DC, with the pop hooks necessary to get proper attention on the radio, without ever watering down the rock. Produced by Tom Werman (with help from Duane Baron and John Purdell), Kix finally teamed up with a production team that knew how to turn their material into charting hits without diluting it.

Album opener “Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT” displays Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant reclaiming his territory after an Anton Fig substitution due to a broken arm on the end of the last album. Pounding away with a simple but effective beat, he sets the stage for the duo of Brian Forsythe and Ronnie “10/10” Younkins to blanket the track with midrange guitar goodness. The production on this album is really outstanding. The power of Kix clearly shines through, but with a new sheen to polish some of the rough edges. Steve Whiteman builds anticipation with restraint in his singing at the beginning of the song. Kix are masters of both tension and dynamics. They know just how long to string the listener along before delivering the heavy payoff. The twin guitar duo comes in with the song’s main riff, and Steve Whiteman pumps on the gas taking his vocals full throttle with rasp and power. Note the background vocals before the chanted chorus, which add some killer harmonic melody to the blistering hard rock. A call and response section between the harmonica and the guitar build off each other to end the song leaving the listener with his ass bruised and sore from being kixed for four euphoric minutes.

After taking a minute to ice the destroyed rectum, “Get It While It’s Hot” starts with a synthesizer run and some backwards vocals that recall their new wave roots. However, this is a clever ruse. Soon the guitars come in and betray the intro. This is another full on rock tune with the drums really in the driver’s seat during the verses. The guitarists play a few chords, rest, and then play a few chords, then rest; each phrase expanding upon the last to complete the picture at the end of five measures. It’s a tension building technique Kix would use again. The chorus drastically changes things up, but the energy level doesn’t dip at all. At this point we’re greeted by the song’s hook. With some era appropriate multi-tracked backing vocals, it drives the point across well.

Even with all the fantastic tunes, the reason that this album went platinum was because of the ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. A number eleven hit in America, the song put the band on map, and on MTV. However, it wasn’t originally released as a single. When Kix were on tour with Great White, their manager Alan Niven asked the band why the song hadn’t been released as a single. Niven, despite being the manager for Great White, called up Doug Morris (president of Atlantic Records at the time) and told him they were sitting on a massive hit. They released it, and the rest is history. As for the song, it’s not a typical fluffy power ballad of the late ‘80s. It has more in common with “Dream On” than it does “Home Sweet Home”. The song is an anti-suicide PSA, a reassuring topic that proved Kix had more on their mind than just sex and explosions. It’s a great song, haunting and emotional. The lyrics and the conviction with which Whiteman sings them makes the hairs on your arm stand up. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” is a powerful song that has probably saved more than one or two lives as well, and is one of the most respectable power ballads of the 1980s.

But who cares when they’re singing about sex when the music backing it is of such high caliber? “Cold Blood” was the first single, and it sold much better after “Don’t Close Your Eyes” became huge. This song deserved to be a huge hit. It’s a stone cold classic. Starting out with a riff sounding like Electric-era The Cult, and progressing to total pop harmony payoff, this one is definitely one of the band’s best tunes. It also received moderate MTV airplay, and became the band’s second most popular song, a place only challenged by the album’s title track. A very fun and electrifying number about singer Steve Whiteman getting his fuse blown, his tower shook, his wires crossed, his hair lit up, his senses overloaded, and his juice felt. The lyrics speak for themselves; this one is another genre classic.

The album is rounded out with several other dynamic hard rock tunes, and a supernatural ability to insert pop melodies into them without diminishing the power one iota. There is no filler on this album, every song is a keeper. A 30th anniversary edition remixed by Beau Hill was announced earlier this year. Start off with the original that has been serving the public well for three decades now. If you were only to buy one Kix album, this is the one.

5/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Midnite Dynamite (1985)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 3 in his KIX series

KIX – Midnite Dynamite (1985 Atlantic)

In 1985, Kix returned after two commercially unsuccessful albums, with what they consider to be their magnum opus, Midnight Dynamite. This is where the new wave styles of the first two records take a backseat to the hard rock influences. Later on, they’d completely shun their new wave influences by kicking them out of the car, and making new wave watch hard rock shag its girlfriend. For now, the blend was still somewhat apparent, but with the mix changed.

Produced by Lebrain’s favorite producer of all time (Beau Hill), Midnight Dynamite definitely sounds like its era, much more so than the debut or Cool Kids. For the first time we get some electronic percussion thrown into the mix and it is the first album by Kix to feature synthesizers in a prominent role. This could have been disastrous, but luckily Kix utilizes them to color the sound and they don’t diminish the hard edge of the guitars one iota. This is a hard rock record first and foremost, and with Ronnie “10/10” Younkins back in the mix, the guitar duo of the first album is reestablished. Pressured once again to work with outside writers, the primary guy for the job is Bob Halligan Jr. If the name sounds familiar, it could be because he wrote two songs for Judas Priest (“Take These Chains” & “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”), and co-wrote with Icon on their second album Night of the Crime. Boasting some impressive credentials, the songwriting takes a step up this time around. Nearly all the songs are collaborations between bassist Donnie Purnell and Halligan.

The album is jump started by the title track. A slow and heavy number, it was a bold choice to open an album with.  Fortunately for Kix, it completely works. The intensity of the verses builds up tension for the ridiculously catchy harmonies in pre-chorus, where we finally get the big payoff during the chorus. This is melodic hard rock done right, without the frills that are usually associated with AOR or other bands of the time period. Kix made sure that the material had balls, something that many other bands of the time period eschewed for chart success. The intensity of the title track is followed by the erotic “Red Hot (Black & Blue)” with a sleazy stuttering riff. The production on this song is a little heavy handed with the reverse reverb in the verses, but it’s nothing that ruins the impact. Another song with dynamics, the verses stutter along with spunk, until the chorus where that Kix fire is unleashed. Some pretty cheesy lyrics, but if you weren’t prepared for that then why would you be reading a Kix review?

One of Beau’s buddies Kip Winger earns himself a writing credit on track number 3, “Bang Bang (Balls of Fire)”. As you can tell by the title, it’s one of the more generic rock songs on the album. It’s one of the least substantial, but it’s still an enjoyable tune. “Layin’ Rubber” is much better, as all the elements that make up the Kix sound are blended masterfully. Obviously more hard rock orientated than material of the past, the track features bubblegum pop chants before launching into a hard rock riff, while the intensity of the music elevates as the song goes on. Each section of the song’s structure is composed to perfectly transition into the next. One of the best tracks on the album, it manages to be damn brutal, and also catchy as shit.

The rest of the album proceeds in this manner, blistering hard rock tunes with undeniably catchy melodies that are never too sugary enough to make you sick to your stomach. There is only one ballad “Walkin’ Away”, which is built on synthesizers, but has enough of a kick to be enjoyable. “Cold Shower” was the other single, which features some rap like vocals in the verses and singer Steve Whiteman hitting some glass shattering notes before the chorus. It’s one of the most eccentric tunes on the album, and I’m surprised it was picked as a single.

Surprising songs or not, this album is one of the most underrated of the era. It’s a mystery as to why it didn’t sell better than it did. Label indifference? If you’re a fan of the rock music, you owe it to yourself to pick up this album and the even better follow up Blow My Fuse.

4.75/5 stars

A note for Kiss fans, Anton Fig plays drums on the last two tracks because Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant had broken his arm.

REVIEW: Yngwie Malmsteen – Trial By Fire: Live in Leningrad (1989)

YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – Trial By Fire:  Live in Leningrad (1989 Polydor)

Walk up to the well-schooled rock fan in your group of friends and ask, “What do you think of Yngwie J. Malmsteen?”

Even the ones who don’t like the Swedish Speed Demon’s albums will admit, “except for that one with Joe Lynn Turner; that was pretty good.”

The short-lived Turner lineup did release a live album in 1989.  Trial By Fire: Live in Leningrad was accompanied by home video of the same name with more tracks.  By 1990, Malmsteen already had a new album and singer named Göran Edman, but only Joe Lynn Turner had the marquee value to bring Yngwie a Billboard top 40 charting record (#40 with Odyssey).

Although Turner can act as a gateway to hear Yngwie for the first time, his stuff can still be pretty off-putting.  Just look at the pompous “thank you’s” on the inside sleeve.  Sprinkled in with the regular names are da Vinci, Bach, Beethoven, Paganini, HP Lovecraft and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Come on, Yngwie!

Joe is a versatile singer, which is one reason he’s always been sought after.  He effortlessly imbibes the old Yngwie tracks with his own attitude:  “Liar”, “Queen in Love”, and “You Don’t Remember” are better with Joe singing.  Unfortunately this is marred by a too-loud audience and Yngwie’s always excessive shredding.  More often than not, he overplays.

When it works, it works.  “Heaven Tonight”, “Queen in Love” and “Deja Vu”, the most melodic songs, click.  The instrumentals are good too, like demonstrations of immaculate neo-classical rock.  “Far Beyond the Sun” is tightly composed and arranged, though live Yngwie lets the strings fly even more.  Listen for some Deep Purple right in the middle of “You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget”, and some Rainbow on “Crystal Ball” too.

Yngwie produced Live in Leningrad himself, and it’s a rather shrill affair with obvious backing tapes on some of the choruses like “Heaven Tonight”.  The problem with many Yngwie albums is that you can only listen to so much before ear fatigue sets in.  Live in Leningrad is one such album.  By the end your brain is exhausted and you have to listen to something from a different end of the spectrum.  Even Joe Lynn Turner can’t blunt the aural razorblade effect.

3/5 stars

#S18-2: Day One is Done

I sit here writing this on Saturday morning, the coldest I’ve ever been at Sausagefest.  From heat wave to chill.  Uncle Meat slept in the car.  No tent for him.  Too cold.

7:30 am.  As the sun moves into position, it’s starting to warm.

We had a great first night, though I had some lower body pain and had to lie down.  I spent two hours in the tent listening to the Countdown.

Tool.  Priest.  Willie.  Rush. Sheavy.  ‘Tallica.  Beasties.  Five Alarm Funk.  Much more.  Amazing tunes last night.

There was one hiccup.  My brand new tent broke immediately out of the box.  Not impressed.  Gorilla tape to the rescue.   My tent looks like the stunted stepchild of everybody else’s tent.

I slept well, and I will do better tonight.  Let’s do it!

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Alive III (1993)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 44

 – Alive III (1993 Polygram)

A brief club tour warmed ’em up.  The full arena tour put Kiss back on the big stage, this time with a huge statue of liberty in addition to the Kiss sign.  As the show went on, the statue crumbled to reveal a skulled figure…giving the finger.  Not everybody got that.  The tour suffered from very poor attendance in the United States, partly blamed on grunge, and partly blamed on a late start (October).

Regardless, it was clearly time for Kiss Alive III.  There was early talk of Alive III back in 1986, set to follow the next studio album.  That never materialised, and some would argue rightfully so.  Kids of the 80s generation already had their own Alive III:  It was called Animalize Live Uncensored, and with the benefit of hindsight, it easily could and should have been the official Alive III.

The real Kiss Alive III was issued in 1993, produced once again by Eddie Kramer, and in the sacred tradition of all Kiss Alives….was heavily overdubbed in the studio.  It is the only Kiss Alive from the non-makeup era, and therefore the only Alive with the lineup of Stanely, Simmons, Kulick and Singer…and Derek Sherinian on ghost keyboards.  He followed Eric Singer over from the Alice Cooper group.

Although there is some overlap with Kiss Alive and Alive II, the third instalment is largely made of newer material, like opener “Creatures of the Night”.  Some fans were upset that “Detroit Rock City” was moved to the end of the set, but a shakeup on a Kiss setlist is usually a good thing.  Opening with “Creatures” was fresh and set the scene firmly back to the heavy sound of 1982, which really seemed to be what Kiss were trying to re-create.

Gene takes over on “Deuce” (1st repeat – Kiss Alive) and for the first time in years it seemed like Gene didn’t look and act goofy on stage.  Give credit to the beard.  It finally gave Gene an image he could work with.  Meanwhile on stage right, Kulick nails a vintage Kiss guitar sound, but without losing his technical advantages.  Another first:  Kulick finally sounded at home playing Ace Frehley guitar solos.  His revamped greasy rock solos fit love a glove.

But wow, does that crowd noise ever sound fake, and fans say that Paul’s stage raps were recorded later, because they’re not from Detroit, Cleveland or Indianapolis where the album was recorded.  “I Just Wanna” is the first Revenge track, but it sounds sterile like a studio version with glistening backing vocals.  It’s also too early in the album to stop the song for a singalong (and a bad singalong at that).  That’s followed by a fairly flat “Unholy” which, Kiss were discovering, didn’t work as well on stage.  Paul’s “Woo-woo” intro to “Heaven’s On Fire” sounds very dubbed, but the track smokes hotter than it did on prior tours.  You can hear Eric Singer clearly on backing vocals, adding a bit of sweetener to the mix.

“Watchin’ You” came as a surprise, an oldie from Hotter Than Hell (and 2nd repeat – Kiss Alive).  With Eric Singer on drums, they captured the jazzy Peter Criss drum vibe once again, but this time with more power and precision.  This is as close as it ever got to original Kiss.  Some would say it’s even better than original Kiss, but that would just be stating a preference.

Back to Revenge, “Domino” is the first song to really click live.  That’s probably because it was always close to that vintage Kiss vibe.  Another surprise is rolled out:  “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” from 1979’s Dynasty, but Wikipedia says this version was recorded at soundcheck.  Whatever the case may be, it’s not as purely heavy as the one on bootleg Unholy Kisses but it’s still good to have it on an Alive.  A set highlight is “I Still Love You” from Creatures, a real chance for Paul to sing.  In 1992 and 1993, Paul was arguably at his vocal peak strength.

They chose an interesting slot for “Rock and Roll all Nite”:  the first track on side two (original cassette version, side three for LP)!  Again, some fans loudly stated a preference for “Rock and Roll all Nite” (3rd repeat – Kiss Alive) as a closer, but it’s stale no matter where it sits.  It’s followed by 80s classic “Lick It Up”, a good song but always a little sparse in the live setting.  Don’t forget the overplayed “I Love It Loud” which was chosen as the only Alive III single.

“Forever” is a little surprising by its inclusion in the setlist that.  A good ballad, yes:  but was a ballad necessary?  It must have been because according to Paul “Every time we play this one, the place lights up like a damn Christmas tree.”  Also true:  Paul’s stage raps are not at all memorable this time out.  A great example is “Detroit Rock City”, although that may also just be that “Detroit” doesn’t belong near the end of an album (4th repeat – Kiss Alive II).

There was a Japanese/vinyl bonus track, finally available on wider release within the Alive! 1975–2000 box set:  “Take It Off”.  This is the one where the strippers came up on stage; yes indeed, a calculated move to shed Kiss’ kiddie image in the 1990s.  As a live song, it’s way better than  “I Just Wanna”.

Kiss closed the show with the complex anthem “God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll to You II” followed by an actual anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner” as a Bruce Kulick guitar showcase.  This works surprisingly well to wrap up a Kiss Alive that is very different from the other Alives.  Turn it up and hear the bombs bursting in air!

Where does Kiss Alive III sit today among the Alives?  It’s not the worst Alive, but we’ll get there.  Think of it like a movie.  Superman was amazing, and nobody expected Superman II to be as good as Superman.  But it was good enough to make a Superman III which wasn’t as good as I or II.  In reality, Superman III was a total bed-shit, but Alive III is not.  For its flaws, it is a pretty good live album.  There were a lot of live albums out in 1993 for Kiss to compete with:  Iron Maiden (two singles), Ozzy (a double), Van Halen (a double) and Metallica (a triple CD and triple VHS monstrosity).  Alive III is better than most of them (you figure out which).  Kiss were only modestly asking you to part with a single CD’s worth of money, and if you bought it at certain stores you’d get an Alive III poster while supplies lasted.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars

Alive III finally behind them, Kiss were still not ready to record their next studio album.  For better or for worse, the post-Alive III era was a complicated, scattershot period with a few interesting releases to cover.

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/11

#690: Unholy Kisses

GETTING MORE TALE #690: Unholy Kisses

Kiss’ Revenge album (last discussed in Part 43 of the Kiss Re-Review Series) was an album that I had been waiting for a long time.  Not just in terms of the three year gap between it and Hot in the Shade.  I loved Kiss, but it had been a long time since they put out an album quite as solid as Revenge.  I wore my Kiss shirt with pride.

I can still remember the day I got my Revenge shirt, in Kincardine Ontario of all places.  My parents bought it for me at a local now-defunct clothing store.  As we browsed my dad asked, “Did you find a shirt, son?”

“Yep,” I answered.  “This one is cool, because it has the new Kiss member on it.”

“Yeah,” my dad said with a disapproving smirk.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that bearded guy before…”

But the new guy wasn’t Gene Simmons, silly dad.  It was the blonde Eric Singer, the first guy to break the Kiss hair colour code.  Yeah, I was proud to rock that shirt.

The parents were good to us.  Any time there was a record show (or record faire) within an hour’s driving distance, they would take us.  You usually had to drive to either Guelph or London.  Sometimes they’d even help us out with a little cash.  No matter how much you budget for a record show, you’ll never bring enough cash.  The treasures are far too numerous and tempting.

One has to learn to categorise and quantify things in order to successfully navigate a record show on a limited budget.  I have really distinct memories of one in Guelph; the one where I found the indispensable Kiss Unholy Kisses bootleg.

I knew going in that I wanted to buy a bootleg on CD.  I had a few on cassette, but never a CD before.  Record shows always had a table or two with guys selling CD bootlegs.  They were never cheap and you could typically expect to pay $40 for a single CD.  That’s how I budgeted it out.

I did plan to buy a little more than that, so I brought extra cash.  My first buy was a 7″ single for “From Out of Nowhere” by Faith No More, a UK import.  It had two live tracks on the B-side (“Woodpecker From Mars” and “Epic” recorded by the BBC).  I was trying to get a decent Faith No More collection so I picked that one early.

Meanwhile my sister found Bryan Adam’s first single, “Let Me Take You Dancing”.  Bryan started as a Disco artist, and his voice was sped up in the mixing in order to make it higher.  He has since disowned the song, and a CD release in any official capacity is highly unlikely.  She definitely found something of value to her.  As an added bonus, the record came with a story.

“I tried to get Bryan Adams to sign it,” said the vendor.  “I handed it to him and he refused.”  So my sister owns a record that Bryan Adams actually refused to sign and we both think that is pretty hilarious.

One thing about record shows that you need to be aware of:  there are always some vendors who are assholes.  It’s just part of the scenery of a record show.  As my sister and I looked around, one of them shouted out at her.

“People will think you stole that,” he said pointing to her Bryan Adams record.  “It’s not in a bag.”

We explained that she bought the record from another vendor.

“You need a bag.  Buy something from me and I give you a bag.  People will think you steal.”

“Here, put it in my bag,” I said to my sister.  “No thanks,” I added to the vendor, as we made sure not to buy anything from him.  He didn’t have anything we wanted anyway.

But what about bootlegs?  That decision had to be weighed.  There was so much to choose from.  The Black Crowes?  Black Sabbath?  They had a CD of early Def Leppard tracks with Frank Noon on drums.  That one was sorely tempting.  Leppard were another band I was trying to collect.  What I really hoped to find though, was Kiss.

There it was:  Unholy Kisses.  Recorded live in San Francisco April 23, 1992.  Revenge wasn’t even out yet when it was taped.  Although other Kiss bootlegs were present, I chose Unholy Kisses for a number of reasons.

  1. My first live versions of “Unholy” and “Take It Off”.
  2. My first live Kiss with Eric Singer.
  3. My first live version of “I Was Made for Loving You”, the old Kiss Disco classic.
  4. A host of other Kiss oldies they hadn’t played live in ages.

I chose wisely.  Unholy Kisses is a great fucking bootleg.

The club setting provides for a very loud concert recording.  It only amplifies the raw heavy new sound of Kiss.  Bruce Kulick nailed a greasy toned and Eric Singer?  Holy shit, did the oldies ever sound amazing with him behind them!  Yes indeed, the new Kiss lineup was excitement personified.  God bless Eric Carr, who will forever have a place in every fan’s heart.  With Eric Singer, Kiss found a credible way to carry on.  Any new member brings their own style and influence to Kiss.  When a drummer is a talented and versatile as Eric Singer, it enables a band to really play.

And strangely enough, during the Singer/Kulick era, one could make serious arguments for Kiss becoming a player’s kind of rock band.  Kulick, for certain, is one of the most talented guys to ever play guitar in Kiss, up there against Vinnie Vincent.  Kulick can play absolutely anything and strove to do new things on every Kiss album.  Whatever Bruce wrote, Singer could play.  This would spill onto the next studio album.

The Kiss Re-Review Series does not require another Unholy Kisses review.  It is bang-on.  For your convenience, you will find the full review below.

If you are even just a casual Kiss fan, pick up Unholy Kisses if you find it in the wild.  There are few official live Kiss albums as good as this.


KISS – Unholy Kisses (Audience recorded bootleg, 1992 Flashback)

“You know who we are, let’s kick some ass!”

That’s how Paul Stanley introduced the legendary Kiss on their stripped-down 1992 club tour, April 23 1992 in San Francisco.  The Revenge album was a “reboot” of sorts, out of necessity.  New drummer, new attitude, and a return to the producer (Bob Ezrin) who helped make them huge.  A return to the clubs without the lights, stage show, and costumes helped Kiss transition into the 90’s.  If this one bootleg CD is any indication, then the club tour was a huge success.

Eschewing their normal opening routine, the band entered to the sound of “Love Gun”, but heavier than ever.  Many fans consider the Simmons/Stanley/Kulick/Singer lineup to be among their best, and this live bootleg proves why.  In fantastic voice, Paul leads this devastating lineup to demolish the clubs in their wake.  Full of adrenaline, “Love Gun” is faster than its studio counterpart, and Bruce Kulick creates his own individual guitar solo that fits the track.

Gene’s next on “Deuce”, the new lineup infusing it with menace.  The CD, though obviously a bootleg, sounds great.  Even though the drums are a bit distant you can hear that Eric Singer has come into the band paying homage to the drum parts he inherited.  Then Paul takes a moment to tell the audience that they’ve been so fired up about the way Kiss have been sounding, that they just got to come down to San Fransisco and play.  A rough opening to “Heaven’s On Fire” is a mere hiccup after they get going on the hit single.  For the first time you can clearly hear new guy Eric Singer singing background vocals.

“You ready to hear something old? One of those Kiss klassics?  Bruce – let ’em have a taste.”  Then the shocked audience picked up their jaws as Kiss slammed through “Parasite” for the first time since 1976.  Returning to songs like this was critical for a band who spent the 80’s largely ignoring the deep cuts.

One thing I love about bootleg CDs is the chance to overhear some audience chatter.  “Shout it Out Loud” however is marred by one nearby fan who keeps singing “You got to have a party,” even when that’s not the current part of the song!  Minor beef, as “Shout it Out Loud” rocks and is another song that was tragically ignored during most of the 80’s.

“How many of you people have Kiss Alive?  Gene must know this one.  Gene’s got Kiss Alive.  Goes like this!”  There begins “Strutter” (also from the first Kiss album) and the crowd goes nuts.  “Dr. Love” follows, with Eric Singer showing off some fancy footwork on the double bass drums.

Fans who were shocked by these old tunes must really have lost their minds when “I Was Made For Loving You”, heavy as hell, tore through the club.  “I Was Made For Loving You” was re-imagined as a chugging metal track and in the club environment, it’s only more raw and aggressive.  Then Paul lets another bomb drop when he introduces “100,000 years” from the first album.  “Oh my God!  I don’t fucking believe it! I do not fucking believe it!” says one nearby fan, obviously excited by this rarity.  It’s incredible how well Bruce and Eric adapted to the sound of old raunchy Kiss.

But what of new Kiss?  The band weren’t ready to start unveiling all the new songs, as Revenge hadn’t even come out yet.  They did roll out two: the first single “Unholy”, and album cut “Take it Off”.

“We got a new album about to come out,” begins Paul.  “And I’ll tell you something, this album is the shit.  I’ll tell you, this album is our fuckin’ Revenge and when you hear the album you’ll know what I’m talking about.”  Indeed, as promised the new songs kick ass, though “Unholy” is kind of awkward in the live setting.  “Take it Off” is more like Kiss.

It’s all oldies from here.   Aside from the new Revenge songs, the most recent track that Kiss played here was “Heaven’s On Fire” from 1984!  (Note: this CD is not the full concert and 1985’s “Tears are Falling” was also played that night.)  I think it’s safe to say that Paul and Gene understand some of the errors in direction they made over the last 10 years, and successfully steered the ship back on track.  “Firehouse” and “Cold Gin” from the first album are present. “I Stole Your Love”, “Detroit Rock City”, and “I Want You” close the CD.  “I Stole Your Love” with the backing vocals of Eric Singer is top-notch!

The songs played that night that aren’t on this CD are “God of Thunder”, “Lick It Up”, “God Gave Rock and Roll to You II” (its live debut), “Rock and Roll all Nite” and the aforementioned “Tears Are Falling”.  Too bad this is only a single CD bootleg, but bootlegs were so expensive that a double would have cost at least $60-80.  If it was a double, I never would have bought it and heard what I have of this awesome show!

4.5/5 stars

UNHOLY KISSES_0003

CD KISStitics

Songs:

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Revenge (1992)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 43

 – Revenge (1992 Polygram)

The first three-year gap between Kiss albums.  The first Kiss record produced by Bob Ezrin since 1981.  The first shared Simmons/Stanley lead vocal in ages.  The first lineup change since 1984.  And saddest of all, Kiss’ first album without Eric Carr since 1980.  Revenge was a shakeup for fans and band alike.

The pendulum of rock had swung back to “heavy”, with Metallica scorching the charts and grunge pummelling everyone else with new sounds.  It was obvious that Kiss had to go heavier, too.  In 1992, most rock bands had to sink or swim.  In order to swim, bands tended to heavy things up.  A lot of the time they called it “going back to the roots”.

Kiss began making tentative steps back that way.  Hot in the Shade (1989) toned down a lot of the keyboards and 80s trappings.  On tour, they played more old material like “Dr. Love”, “God of Thunder”, and “I Was Made for Loving You”.  Then, as an experiment, they got back together with Bob Ezrin for a song from a movie soundtrack.  Everyone was writing, even the sick Eric Carr.  The initial plan was to have Eric play on half the new album, so he could have time to recover from his cancer surgery.  The drummer from Paul Stanley’s solo tour, Eric Singer, was available to play on the other half.  Singer was on tour with Alice Cooper during the summer of 1991, but would be home soon enough.  Then, on November 24, Eric Carr passed.

The most obvious choice to replace Carr was Eric Singer.  He was already working with the band, he knew the songs, and he was a fan.  Bruce Kulick found him inspiring to have around, as Singer loved his guitar work.  In fact the only thing about Eric Singer that didn’t fit was his hair colour!

The energetic new drummer was a godsend.  With albums to his name by Black Sabbath and Badlands, Kiss couldn’t have asked for a more technically adept player.  He could hit hard (though Eric Carr takes the belt in that regard) and he could authentically do any era of Kiss.  Be it the early, slippery Peter Criss material or the heavy metal of Eric Carr, Singer had it all covered.  And he could sing!  Though we wouldn’t get there quite yet.

It was the heavy metal side that was most immediately apparent.  The first track and first video from Revenge was “Unholy”, something very unlike anything Kiss had done before.  And it came about in a most peculiar way.  Enter:  Vinnie Vincent.

Those who say “Vinnie saved Kiss” will point to “Unholy” as one such song that saved Kiss.  After years of estrangement (and preceding even more), Vinnie came out to write with Gene and Paul.  “Unholy” was one of three songs he contributed.

With a fury unlike any before, Gene Simmons and company swirl in rage on “Unholy”.  The closest they got to this kind of heavy before would be Creatures, but there’s something just pissed off about it that wasn’t there before.  With a concrete riff and angry slabs of drum tribalism, Kiss announced their return loudly.  Not to be outdone, soloist Bruce Kulick laid down his noisiest guitar assault yet.  There isn’t an ounce of fluff to “Unholy”.

Thanks to Bob Ezrin, Revenge is Kiss’ best sounding album since Lick It Up or Creatures.  It’s no Destroyer, and it’s no Elder.  This time they cut the extras down to the bone, leaving the four Kiss guys to rock it themselves.  Err, mostly themselves.  That’s Kevin Valentine on drums for the second song, “Take It Off”.  Strange that Kiss continued to have ghost musicians on albums when they clearly didn’t need to.  An ode to strippers, “Take It Off” is lyrically juvenile, but gleams like stainless steel.  Paul Stanley wrote it with Ezrin and ex-Alice Cooper guitarist Kane Roberts, and it could have been used as a single had Revenge needed another.  A dirty, dirty single.

Paul, Bruce and Ezrin composed “Tough Love” with a slower, chunky riff.  Kulick’s solo is remarkable, but it’s also just nice hearing Paul do a sex song that has some balls.  There is no “X” in this sex, although there’s a little BDSM for the 50 Shades crowd.  Then, teaming up with Gene, they do their first co-write and co-lead vocals together in the first time in a dog’s age.  “Spit” is old school fun with a modern heavy edge.  Bruce pays homage to Jimi Hendrix in his complex guitar solo, a composition all to itself.  Eric Singer gets to throw down tricky beats and fills, making “Spit” one of the most deceptively clever songs Kiss has done.

“God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II” was released as a single the year before.  It was the experiment with Ezrin that kicked off Revenge in the first place.  It was the only song that Eric Carr was alive for, and you can clearly hear him on backing vocals.  Singer handled the drums, though Carr did it in the music video.  The album mix is different from the single or soundtrack, in order to better suit the sonics of Revenge as its sole anthem.

Gene tells a story about a girl who “kisses like the kiss of death” to end side one.  “Domino” hearkens back to early Kiss, with a sparse arrangement and Gene playing rhythm guitar instead of Paul.  This greasy rocker just screams “Kiss”.  There is nobody else with songs like “Domino”.  It was the third single from Revenge, sporting a nifty video with Gene cruising around in a convertible while Kiss plays as a trio!  Paul Stanley: bass guitar.

“Heart of Chrome”, the second Vinnie Vincent collaboration, rocks with attitude.  Once again, anger seems to be the emotion of the day.  The 90s-look Kiss could deliver anger in spades.  Then Gene takes the mantle on “Thou Shalt Not”.

He said “kindly reconsider the sins of your past,”
I said “Mister you can kindly kiss my ass.”

These are not songs for the Kiss hits mix tape you’re making for your roadtrip.  These are songs to be experienced in context of the album, where they deliver mighty riffs and enough hooks for the long-player.  “Thou Shalt Not” has another one of those Kulick solos that could be a study in string manipulation, and Singer just keeps it kicking the whole way through.

You could choose from two schools of thought regarding “Every Time I Look at You”.  As the album’s only true ballad, some see it as a mistake on a record as heavy as Revenge.  Others see it as a reprieve from a fairly relentless onslaught.  Indeed, it does sound as if from another album.  With a string section, Ezrin on piano, and Dick Wagner on ghost guitar, one could even argue that it’s an album highlight.  A little re-sequencing though, and you probably wouldn’t even miss it.

Gene makes it heavy again on “Paralyzed”, not an outstanding track but a little funkier than usual.  “I Just Wanna” is far more entertaining, though it is a shameless and obvious rip-off from “Summertime Blues”.  It was chosen as the second single, and lo and behold, it’s the third Vinnie Vincent song too.  “I Just Wanna” is immediately catchy and memorable for days.  Probably because you already knew it as “Summertime Blues”.

As a touching surprise, Revenge ends on an instrumental called “Carr Jam 1981”.  Bob Ezrin dug up an old demo from The Elder with a hot riff and a complete drum solo.  It had been bootlegged before, notably on Demos 1981-1983, but not with very good sound.  Ace Frehley even recorded it as “Breakout” on his second solo album.  Ezrin cleaned up the original demo for Revenge, edited it for length, and overdubbed Bruce on lead guitar.  “Carr Jam” has become Eric’s signature drum solo.  Placing it here at the end of Revenge was not only poignant but also just great sequencing.

Album in hand, now it was time to tour.  Kiss would start with a short run in the clubs.  More on that next time.

Today’s rating:

4.5/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/10